Linking the youth, shaping the future

“I’m not happy about this at all”, says Jakir playfully. “They’re never this early for football sessions with me!” Kamal adds, “Not only that Jak, they’ve been looking forward to this – in fact some of them didn’t sleep last night. They spent it pestering me!”

Its 7:00am on Thursday morning, Jakir and Kamal, volunteers with Newham Youth Link are talking about their youth group – with whom they are about embark on a 4-day residential. The youth group consists of 22 young men aged 14-18, they are all Muslim and from a mainly South Asian background. Many of them have just finished their GCSE’s and are waiting for their results; they board the minibuses with expectations of an action packed weekend.

Their journey, by minibus consists, of the usual playful banter tinged with the occasional practice of “tooth pasting”. Tooth pasting, if you don’t know, is an art whereby the forehead and cheeks of a sleeping person become the canvas for the artist. The youngsters compete with each other over who can produce the most outrageous designs – Damien Hirst would surely approve of such youthful expressionism.

They are an exuberant bunch, perhaps a little too boisterous for the quiet town of Middleton-upon-teesdale that they have arrived in. “They are not allowed to leave the center unsupervised” informs the site coordinator. Appearances have, perhaps, misled him; though these boys look like they just stepped out of “da hood” (limps and all!) they wouldn’t hurt a fly. On second thoughts, one hopes that they wouldn’t hurt a cat.

They unpack and gather for the first session with Tahajjud, who is their team leader for the weekend. One of the original founders of NYL, He has spent, along with the other volunteers, the last two weeks preparing for this residential. They are aiming to get a balance between enjoyable and educational activities. This in itself poses an interesting problem for the staff as the young men they are working are, at times, a little too playful.

“We would like you to share something that you consider to be a personal success” requests Tahajjud. “It can be anything, anything halal of course”. One young man, curiously nicknamed Monkey, volunteers “the day I learnt how to ride a bike”; cue laughter all around. Kamal tries to direct them towards a serious mode of thinking. “How did you feel when your Dad let go of the bike?” I don’t remember responds “Monkey”. Someone else suggests perhaps it’s because he spent time with Dad, a discussion then ensues around working parents. “They work hard to give us things” says one, another counters by indicating that his relationship with his parents is different because of the fact they were not around.

The young men enjoy group discussions and will talk at length about the usual things – Music, Football, the opposite sex – and some things that could be considered unusual for them. One of the staff recalls another interesting session where the young men discussed the banning of the hijaab in France, asked about the fiqh of marriage and discussed the relationships that they had with their families.

Another person contributes his success. “Being able to behave myself this year”, He says rather mischievously – it seems that he is alluding to relationships but given that it is haraam to reveal ones sins, he doesn’t divulge any further details other then to say that He spent a lot more time studying this year. Amidst further entertaining exchanges the session comes to a close.

Discussing haram things throws up an interesting problem for the youth workers. How do they deal with teen issues without alienating the youth through holier-than-thou-lecturing? NYL uses a simple model – in a public discussion young people are asked to contribute their thoughts using the third person – “What should I do, I mean what should my friend do if a girl asks him out?” The benefit of this is that some of the more embarrassing problems can be dealt with in a manner where everyone can benefit from the answer.

In private, all of the NYL youth workers make themselves available to discuss any deeply personal issues. On one occasion, some of the under16 football team approached Kamal for some drugs’ related advice. Their intention was to prevent some of their friends against pursuing an interest in Marijuana. It wasn’t a coincidence that, that year, NYL had re-branded the football project “Football Addicts” and delivered tailor made sessions for the youth group.

In another incident, one of the young people phoned Tahajjud to ask him what time Tahajjud prayer was. When asked if everything was ok and being reassured about confidentiality, the young man disclosed his love for his girlfriend who had just left him; in that vulnerable moment he was seeking Islamic advice on what to do his emotionally difficult situation.

Thursday evening rolls in, the youth group meet Jeff, an ex-soldier who will be one of their hosts for the weekend. There is an immediate bond between Jeff and NYL when he asks in a strong northen accent “do you mind if I call you brother”. This helps to put them at ease, as it apparent that their presence in the county has increased the ethic minority content twenty-fold.

“Its freezing!” cries one of the young men as he lands in the cold water. It’s Friday morning; most of the youngsters have not slept as yet; they spent a portion of the night “chilling”, the other portion it seems was spent tooth-pasting their sleeping friends. Jumping into cold water forms part of their first activity – that of gorge walking. This particular exercise involves diving into pools of cold water, while remaining fully dressed. Some of them offer their excuses – “its cold, I’ll get my clothes wet”, before sheepishly revealing their fear of water. The young men are gently coaxed by the staff into trying to overcoming their fears. That is, before the others drag them into the water without offering any soothing counselling.

It’s now Friday evening, where we find an intriguing scene unfolding before us. It’s a maths class, one of the pupils puts his hands up, the boys at the back gasp. “Oh my gosh, did he just do that?” One of them retorts he must have an invisible crane or something, the other students burst into laughter. The teacher intervenes – “if you haven’t got anything good to say then don’t say anything at all”. He receives a predictable response, “What, who are you to tell me what to do?” The teacher replies, I didn’t say that your Prophet (SAW) did.

The scene changes to a playground. Winston, a black boy is being abused. “Hey, you’re so black, when you cross the zebra crossing, you say know you see me now you don’t”. He explodes into a fit, while others explode into fits of laughter. “Wha you say boy, me nah appreciate this ya’, if you aint got nuttin good to say shut ya trap u’kna.” The abuser responds, “what, who are you to tell me what to do?” Winston replies, “Me na say dis, your Prophet (SAW) said”.

We have just witnessed what can only be referred to as Islamic drama. The young men were presented with various ahadith were directed to act out scenarios incorporating the teachings contained with the ahadith. In their customary manner, they launched into lively dialogues that had them acting out the roles of drug-dealers, stick-wielding elders from the mosque and “freshies” from back home. It’s a novel approach to Islamic studies but one that has appealed them – in contrast to the conventional method of lecturing.

It’s Saturday morning and the young men find themselves standing before the entrance to a cave. Their guide is Jeff, who has just maniacally driven them there. “Right lads, we are going to be going about 50 feet underground. Be careful – if you get lost in there, you won’t be able to find your way out.”

They enter into the cave, slowly and surely. As they move along, the day light slowly dissipates until the only light left is that from their torch light. They stop to rest in a narrow chamber and to experience “pitch black”. Under direction from Jeff, the young men switch off their lights, one by one, until they are completely enveloped in darkness. According to Quranic lore, its not the first time that a group of young men have retreated into a cave.

One of the key aims of NYL is to take young people out of their environment and expose them to new experiences. NYL staff argue that this is the one of the most effective ways to help young people to develop their self belief. It holds some truth with this particular group of young people.

In the cave, one of the young men grew in confidence with each passing moment – at first he didn’t want to go into the cave but then he pushed himself into trying. Afterwards he came out saying, “I can do anything now, I’ve got bear amounts of confidence”. Others overcame some aspects of their fears in the last jump of the gorge walk. For them, that involved jumping from 15 feet into a deep pool of water.

Its Sunday morning, a tired Tahajjud and Kamal are discussing the effectiveness of the work that they do. “Is it worth it? Are we making a difference?” they discuss introspectively. They’ve had their fair share of ups and downs with this group of youngsters.

They recall the crowning moment when their multi-national team won The Charity Cup. Their celebrations left a particularly poignant memory as the youngsters carried their Nigerian Christian goal keeper on their shoulders to recognise the big part that he had played in their success. Or the time when one of the mothers phoned to commend Kamal on the positive impact he had made on her son.

They also recall unsavoury incidents of fighting at football games, outbursts of disrespect from the young people and at times, a lack of appreciation for their efforts. In spite of this, both of them remain committed to working with them. They have witnessed changes in some of them and this, in addition to accepting that internal changes will not be immediately apparent, provides them with enough motivation to continue their work.

It’s the closing session of a draining weekend. The boys, knackered through lack of sleep, have gathered for what, for some, might be the last NYL event that they take part in. “Its important that we clear our accounts with each other” they are told. Starting with the team lead, each of them asks all of the people present to forgive individual mistakes and shortcomings in the time that they have spent together. Jeff had commented on the respect that they had for each other and had sensed a strong bond of brotherhood between them; it appears as though the residential had helped to strengthen that.

In the concluding supplications, they are reminded that the angels have recorded their experiences together, that their histories are forever linked. NYL’s simple motto is “Linking the youth, shaping the future”, their aim, as is apparent, is to help each individual connect to their pools of natural talent and use them to build a better future for themselves and their communities. If they succeed in doing that, then perhaps it could be said, and Allah knows best, that they are helping to shape the future.

NYF 5 NYL 6

In every season, there is a character building game for every team. Such a game helps to bond players together and teaches them lessons that hours and hours of training would not be able to do, NYF vs NYL was such a game.

Faced with frustrating decisions, little luck and team infighting, NYL showed their mettle by struggling all the way to the end. This game, which must surely be considered among the games of the season, would teach NYL the importance of keeping cool heads when faced with adversity.

It started very badly. NYL took centre, and Shurayh, NYLs attacking midfielder, made a routine pass back to centre back Abdullah. Due to a momentary lapse of concentration, a NYF player stole the ball and ran into the area completely unchallenged. The NYL goal keeper dived at the feet of the oncoming player. The NYF striker calmly went around him and placed the ball into the goal. 1-0. 15 seconds, such a fast goal will probably not be seen again this season. The NYF team celebrated as they could not believe how easily they had just breached NYLs defence.

The NYL players were in shock as they hadn’t expected to concede so early. Alim, the man of the match from last weeks game, rallied his team, “come on boys, we’ve got plenty of time, lets go”. NYL took the center again, this time Abdullah managed to keep the ball and sent a pass out to the right.

NYL were playing their favoured 4-5-1 formation. With the arrival of an old team mate, Musa, Nahidur was moved to the left of midfield. That would prove to be a stroke of genius. NYL began to get into the game but were finding stiff opposition from NYF’s midfielders. “Show some hunger, the’re winning everything!” Abdullah shouted as he sought to lead his team into taking control of the game.

NYL managed to get a ball into NYF’s 18 yard box, one of the NYL players shot and the ball hit a defender, and not for the first time in this game, Nahidur struck a loose ball which found its way into the net. NYL felt relief as they went level. 1-1.

The game restarted and NYF again bossed the midfield. At the halfway line, Nahidur tackled one of the players and started a drive towards the goal, with 2 NYF players flanking him. He found himself in the NYF area and shot, it went into the bottom right of the goal. An exhilarating run from midfield and doggedness to keep on going had resulted in another goal. 2-1 to NYL.

The NYL players jumped on Nahidur, they were estatic. NYF had been dominating the midfield but against the run of play, the had conceded another goal. It was time for them to go back to the drawing board.

After some good build up play, NYF found themselves with a throw in. They took it, one of their players got the ball and was fouled by Shurayh. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, Shurayh protested his innocence. Ziyad, NYLs right back, said “dont worry”. NYLs manager shouted “Make up for it” from the side lines. The NYF player stepped up and took an excellent shot to the right, the NYL goalkeeper remained rooted to his feet. 2-2.

NYF celebrated deliriously, game on! The NYL players began to show frustration. NYF chased every ball and hankered after all of the NYL players. In another attacking move, an NYF player received a ball in the goal area and was fouled by an NYL player. Another penalty, the NYL players were furious and began to argue with one another.

Up stepped the NYF player and scored in the same manner that he had done before. It was now 3-2 to NYF. Their supporters leaped joyously, blissfully unaware that there were more twists and turns yet to come. NYL retook the centre and tried to build something out of the game. They had had high hopes of winning this game but now they would be made to work for it.

Lacking rhythm, NYL couldn’t string a set of passes together and the players started to shout and swear at each other. Frustration can cause some irrevocable damage especially if you are already losing by a goal down. NYF entered, it seemed, at will into NYLs area. Another beautiful pass into the box was finished with aplomb and caused even more despair for a team that seemed to be coming off the rails. 4-2 to NYF.

Zaeem, NYLs talented right midfielder was getting very frustrated with his team. He began shouting at his players and got into an argument with Ziyad. He hated losing and just couldnt understand why his team were not able to play football today. The referee warned him about his conduct, his manager warned him about his conduct but it just did not quench the anger he felt.

Half time came and the NYF players walked off feeling very happy with themselves. They were leading by two goals against one of the better teams in the league. They had chased every ball, disrupted the flowing game that NYL enjoyed playing and seemingly scored at will.

NYL came off with some of the players still continuing their arguments, “Calm down!” the manager shouted, “Calm down and keep your heads!” The team gathered around for the team talk, Zaeem found his own space and tried to calm down. “Dont get frustrated otherwise you will lose the game, keep your heads and the results will come.” The Manager sought to prevent his team from completely self destructing.

After a few minutes the players returned to the pitch for the second half, Zaeem was left out of the start because the manager felt that in his frustrated state He would be cause more problems for his team then the opposition. Abdul Rahman started in his place, Zaeem went for a walk.

The game continued with NYL becoming more assertive, “The’re winning everything!” shouted one of the NYF players as they struggled in the first few moments of the second half. Shurayh received the ball and managed to evade his marker and sent in an excellent cross that evaded everyone and was headed by NYL striker, Alim who hit the cross bar. It bounced out and Nahidur poached the third goal for his hatrick.

NYL’s renewed vigour for the game had led to their third goal, it was now 4-3 to NYF. NYL hoped that his would be the start of a great comeback. Their hopes were dashed as again NYF scored again to make it 5-3. This time NYL’s response was to remain calm and play their way back into the game. Zaeem returned from his extended break and went into midfield.

NYF played the ball around and found their way into the NYL box. Their striker was shepherded by an NYL player who made an ill timed tackle for a third penalty. NYL were not quite sure what to do, up stepped the NYF player amidst screams of “Get your hatrick!” from the side line. He shot as he had done twice before… this time he placed the ball on the wrong side of the upright.

You could feel the collective sigh of relief from NYL, at last something was going their way. About 15 minutes into second half, Shariful, NYLs other attacking midfielder, was sin-binned for a late tackle on an NYF player. They had been warned by their manager to no avail. 2 goals down and the last thing that they needed was to go a player down.

The 10 minutes passed and Shariful came back on again. However, it was not long before Zaeem was sin-binned for a push on a player. Time was in short supply and NYL seemed unable to keep their focus. With 7 minutes to go Zaeem came back and proceeded to play a major part in a remarkable end to the game.

With NYL having nothing to lose, they kept pushing forward. One such move resulted in a goal mouth skirmish that saw Zaeem get his first goal of the game. 5-4. A few moments later, a hopeful shot from NYLs midfield came into the NYF box, Zaeem hit the ball with his heel. Incredulously it ended up in the NYF goal. All of a sudden from being 2 goals down, NYL were level with a few minutes to go. 5-5 seemed cruel to NYF who had dominated for the whole match, unfortunately for them they could do very little against the last goal, which surely must be a contender for goal of the season.

Abdullah cleared the ball out from his half, Shariful backheeled it to Shurayh who backheeled it to Zaeem. Zaeem, who had not used his skills for much of the game, made an audacious chip that would not have been out of place in a Brazil game. The ball floated through the air and landed in front of Nahidur who somehow was still running at full speed at this stage of the game. The team held its breath as Nahidur ran towards goal, He then unleashed a powerful shot which was slightly deflected and ended up in the back of the NYF goal. 6-5 to NYL with little more then 90 seconds remaining.

Nahidur scored the winning goal, His fourth of the game. His team mates jumped on him with adulation. No one could mind losing to such a goal, 4 exquisite touches and a deft finish by the man of the match. If anyone else had been awarded that, the NYL players probably would have rioted! The celebration following the goal saw Abdullah get sin binned and NYL played out the last few moments before exploding in celebration when the referee blew his whistle.

NYF walked off dejected and perhaps felt a little hard done by, they had worked their socks off but it had not been enough. They had led for most of the game but had lost to a magical moment of play from NYL. They could try to seek their revenge in the cup game the following week.

The first goal was scored after 15 seconds, 11 goals were scored in total. The lead changed 4 times, 3 penalties were awarded and 3 players were sin-binned. To cap it all, the game was won with a magnificent goal in the last few moments of the game. Its a pity that there were no cameras present as NYF and NYL participated in a game that will surely be become part of the leagues folklore.